He was trying out a role built for him. The screenwriter wrote the script with John in mind. He wrote his name in the margin. “A John McGinley type.”
“Did that give you high confidence?” I asked him.
“No, they made me audition 5 times for a John McGinley type!”
So I wanted to know how he landed so many incredible roles. He told me the secret. We either poison ourselves. Or we thrive.
It’s our choice. We make it every day. And usually one is our habit.
“Actors usually bring one of two things with them into a room,” he said.
“They usually either bring in ‘pigpen,’ which is this cloud of dust.” He gave me an example: You walk into an audition or an interview. You say, ‘My aunt died in Philadelphia last night so I had to take the train down there and I never got a chance to look at your script/proposal/offer.”
That’s pigpen. And you’re out before you gave anyone the chance to give you a chance.
I asked John why people do that. Why do we pick poison?
“Fear. We’re afraid. We’re afraid of our own shadows. Sometimes we come in and we impose our problems into the room. And that’s pigpen. And you’re dead.”
And it happens in every situation in life really. You can probably think of a friend who does this to themselves all the time.
So what’s the other choice?
“Elvis dust is when you come in with this strange combination of self-esteem meets homework meets right for the part meets the room. And when people bring in Elvis dust all we wanna do is get it on us.”
Al Pacino had Elvis Dust. So did Paul Newman. John worked with both of them.
“What would you see in Al Pacino’s acting that was really above and beyond? What did you learn from him?” I asked.
“He’s a magician,” John asked him why he wanted to be an actor in the first place. Al Pacino said, “Johnny, see, I just want to be a storyteller.’”
I asked John what he wanted to be growing up… his answer was the same as Al’s.
“I didn’t know what it would look like. But I knew I loved participating in any kind of storytelling process.”
Maybe that’s what Elvis Dust is made of…